With the addition of the Kraken in 2021, the NHL will finally have a nice and even 32 teams, with 8 in each division. Who doesn’t love a good bit of symmetry?
Seattle will enter the league in the Pacific Division because that’s the only place they belong, and the Arizona Coyotes will have to move over to the Central Division to get them aligned just right.
That’s a fairly nice geographic alignment, keeping divisions mostly within one time zone. It’s a little wonky what with the dense population on the East coast, but overall it works.
Let’s blow it up.
Anyone can draw lines down a map to create divisions in a sports league, it happens in all of them. But why are we so restrictive on separating teams solely based on geography? That’s no fun. Let’s try something new. Let’s align them based on their nicknames.
As it turns out, there are exactly eight teams named after animals (okay maybe the devils make nine but it’s close) so that knocks out one division pretty easily. And that’s where the Kraken will land.
The Animal division wouldn’t be a bad place to start off a franchise right now. It’s probably the third best division in the league, and they’d only have to catch the Panthers (with just a +3 goal differential last year) to grab a playoff spot. A wild card berth is probably out the window, as both wild card teams are likely coming from that strong Nature division. In fact, all eight of the Nature division’s teams made it to the NHL Bubble Playoffs this past season, the only division in this new league to do so.
I like that the Protector division keeps the New York rivalry intact, but it’s a bummer that the Rangers and Flyers get separated. The Canucks and the Knights are getting absolutely wrecked with this schedule though. Every divisional game outside of when they play each other is on Eastern time. Tough, but it happens.
The Storied division is a bit of a mishmash, I’ll be honest. It was hard to find a good balance in the Man-Made Conference. It’s also probably the worst division in this league, though that win percentage is dragged down heavily by Detroit. Half of this division didn’t get an invite to the bubble.
If we had a normal playoffs with this alignment, ranking teams by their win percentage, the bracket would look like this:
This is fun, but that last miscellaneous division is really bugging me. Let’s get even more radical with it and split this into eight divisions of four teams each.
Now this is an alignment that would help out the Kraken quite a bit. Seattle should be able to compete with the struggling Sharks and Ducks right away, with the added benefit of short travel for those road games. Pittsburgh is tough, but would be the second worst division winner in this setup. The Disaster and Nature divisions remain the strongest, without a bad team among them. That’s going to make it harder to grab a playoff spot for the Kraken without toppling the Penguins for the division crown. The Nature division might suffer a bit as it’s the division with teams separated by the most distance.
The Storied division makes more sense now. St. Louis named after its music, Montreal its country, New Jersey after its own personal monster myth, and the Kings…well, kings are in a lot of stories at least. This division still sucks anyway outside of the Blues, so that’s easily forgotten.
The High-Flying division works out well, featuring things that fly, so long as we take the Blackhawks to mean the Blackhawk helicopter. In fact, this is a perfect opportunity for Chicago to get rid of their racist logo and replace it with a sweet military helicopter. They get to keep the name and get a less offensive logo, and they now fit in this division. Wins all around.
The Patriot division is the most interesting one in the Man-Made conference, outside of whatever it is the Senators are doing. The Canucks and Islanders appear to be on the upswing while the Capitals are only getting older. This should make for a tight race in the coming years. The Rangers should challenge the Knights in the Protector division soon if their recent high draft picks of Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafrenière play up to their potential.
In this alignment, we’d give the top four playoff seeds in each conference to the division winners, followed by four wild card teams from any division. The playoff bracket based on 2019 win percentage would look like this.
Who you got in this one?
The NHL is not the biggest league in the US, and I firmly believe that getting a little weird with their division alignments could be the key to bringing in that next generation of hockey fans that don’t yet realize they like hockey. What do they have to lose?